Monday, March 31, 2008

Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video - a review

Here's a fragment of a review I just wrote of Sut Jhally's documentary Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video (2007). I'm sure a lot of folks will find this documentary insightful and useful... so I won't wait until the review is out in print to give you the scoop.

By the way, Sut Jhally is the Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation, the institution responsible for producing this documentary and many others—including Byron Hurt's groundbreaking piece on hip-hop and masculinity titled Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes.

Here's the trailer:

Here's my review:

Dreamworlds 3 is focused on analyzing how music videos both inform and are informed by our culture’s dominant attitudes regarding femininity, masculinity, sexuality and race. One of this documentary’s strongest points is its close attention to music video’s “storytelling techniques,” not only in terms of its lyrics and images, but also in terms of filmic techniques (camera angles and movement, for example) and the stories that these tecniques tell. Other strengths include its discussion of how the “pornographic imagination” and the porn industry inform music videos, as well as its portrayal of music videos as a constructed “fantasy” and “dreamworld” that is not the “real world” but is still in constant dialogue with it.

Another of Dreamworld 3’s crucial contributions to making more productive the often sterile dialogue surrounding gender and popular culture, is its framing of the question of sexism, not by asking if an image is “good or bad,” but through an analysis of whose stories are being told and how. According to the documentary, the problem is not that there is too much sex in music videos, but that there is no diversity in the stories being told since they are monopolized by the “heterosexual male imagination.” Furthermore, the documentary makes it very clear that female objectification itself is not the problem; the problem is that females are only being portrayed as objects. Once again, the key issue for Jhally is the lack of diversity in how gender is represented.

Though the aims and strategies of hyper-sexualizing women in music videos are thoroughly covered, one is left wondering how (and if) sexualization and objectification works in terms of images of men. The question of how women viewers receive and respond to all this imagery is also left somewhat unclear. Surely, it is the male heterosexist pornographic imagination constructing the dreamworlds of music videos “to draw in male viewers.” But what about women? What are the details of their attraction, repulsion and/or indifference to hyper-sexualized images (of women, of men)? How are their responses different from those of (most) men? But frankly, faulting the documentary for failing to hone in on these questions seems like nitpicking, given all that it does do.


raquelzrivera said...

Two of my favorite bloggers have replied on myspace version of this blog. What they have said, so far:

Divine0313 aka P.EyeSees

Yo, it's funny that this blog came up specifically today, because I was having this discussion with a sister of mine and I was saying that the root of all global problems spring from the lacking of understanding of the natural bond that men and women have. Then we create unnatural structures to explain and complicate this simple reality.

But I also, to keep things up to date in relevance, recognize the structure and stigmas being built from the conquering of Europeans as exemplified in "The Willie Lynch Letter" (which if you notice is really the implementing of the Spaniard of slavery in the U.S.) and Dr. Cress Welsing's "The Isis Papers". The natural vitality symbolized by women is attractive to any man who looks forward to a fulfilling life and the honorableness and discipline in man translates into the responsibilities of the family that he will carry. But since slave survival is based on individualism and separation with a great deal of lack of trust and paranoia, men and women become enemies while at the same time understanding that each other's needs are only met by the other.

But then if we look at white man's history in regards to gender relations, in its Greco-Roman roots, we'll find that our influences in sexism and misogyny are from those very societies. Those were gay-friendly societies and unlike to modern times, where many women consider gay men their best friend, that wasn't the case back then. Then alike to "Beyond Beats & Rhymes", this modern Greco-Roman society's influence on heterosexual men will appear homo-erotic, "I love my niggas, fuck them bitches" and bragging about being locked in a cell with nothing but men for many years.

The weird part about it too, is that too many of us are raised with only our mothers and tend to be recycled resurrections of our fathers who were the men that the film is speaking on. But that's also in the search to find what a man's image is, and that man, the homo-erotic/sexist man is great in abundance and easily found and ready to teach us how to be them as well. So in attempt to want to reconcile with women, what happens? It takes too much thought and effort while no one lends guidance to reach that understanding.

So of course that's going to be found in Hip Hop, but there have always been contexts to places these situations in, but in the PR parade, cats took what they watch extremely out of context in attempts to make that fiction a reality.

Then not to leave it all up to the dudes, but then the girls we're used to knowing are into this and take anything less as soft or too nice, lol. So then it's just a great big pool of confused people who can't balance what they want from what they've been told to want.

There's way too much to speak on when it comes to this, simply just because it is speaking on the 2 founding people that this whole human experience relies on: man and woman. But yeh, I definitely want to see what other people say about this.

Posted by Divine0313 aka P.EyeSees on Tuesday, April 01, 2008 at 4:57 AM
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Raquel Z. Rivera

O.k., so I'm back and so many things about your comment make me wonder...

I do agree that misunderstandings between men and women are rampant. But what exactly do you mean by: "The natural vitality symbolized by women is attractive to any man who looks forward to a fulfilling life and the honorableness and discipline in man translates into the responsibilities of the family that he will carry."

"Atractive" as in sexually atractive? "The family that he will carry" as in biological offspring?

I may be misunderstanding you, but if the assumption is that a man can only be an "honorable" and "disciplined" man if he is heterosexual and biologically procreates, then that to me is a far too constraining vision of manhood.

Another question, slightly off-topic but having to do with one of the examples you mention in passing: The Willie Lynch Letter. I'm no expert on the topic, by far, but once historians and other folks start labeling it as an urban legend or hoax, my ears perk up. Check out Spelman College historian William Jelani Cobb on it:

"There are many problems with this document - not the least of which is the fact that it is absolutely fake.[...] Considering the limited number of extant sources from 18th century, if this speech had been "discovered," it would've been the subject of incessant historical panels, scholarly articles and debates. It would literally be a career-making find. But the letter was never "discovered." Rather, it simply "appeared" on the Internet - bypassing the official historical circuits and making its way directly into the canon of American racial conspiratoria. [...] On a more practical level, the speech is filled with references that are questionable if not completely inaccurate. Lynch makes reference to an invitation reaching him on his "modest plantation in the West Indies." While this is theoretically possible - the plantation system was well established in the Caribbean by 1712 - most plantation owners were absentees who chose to remain in the colonizing country while the day-to-day affairs of their holdings were run by hired managers and overseers. But even assuming that Mr. Lynch was an exception to this practice, much of the text of his "speech" remains anachronistic. Lynch makes consistent reference to "slaves" - which again is possible, though it is far more likely people during this era would refer to persons in bondage simply as "Negroes." In the first paragraph, he promises that "Ancient Rome would envy us if my program is implemented," but the word "program" did not enter the English language with this connotation until 1837 - at the time of this speech it was used only to reference a written notice for theater events."
(full text:

Posted by Raquel Z. Rivera on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 2:37 PM
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Raquel Z. Rivera


I think those are good questions. I frequently turn off tv because I grow weary of seeing naked-ish gyrating women. It is actually repulsive for me, since Im pretty hetero and with no attraction there, its just "private parts" to me. I often enjoy the songs and dont mind the sexuality of the lyrics, but am turned off by men lounging and spanking the rumps of the female decor.

Other than the fact that I dont really want to see other peoples genitalia or breasts or buttocks, intellectually it bothers me that we advertise music as if males are the only consumers, as if their needs are the only ones that matter, and as if the only way to reach the male consumer is with the promise of sex, sex and more sex. I will turn off a show, video or commercial if I feel like its insulting me by showing huge breasts and tight abs to sell something, as if my dollar doesnt count.

As I have said before, I don't mind sex, I don't mind somewhat explicit lyrics. I mind the one sided nature of it, that as a woman the media reduced my part in this to "plaything". That in most pop culture references to sexual activity, there is the underlying assumption that women are there to be used and not as full participants with needs and desires of their own.

I was watching Al Diablo con Los Guapos last night, I think telenovelas do a very good job of objectifying men. There is always plenty of eyecandy for the men and the women. Men prance about in their revealing clothing, jump into pools, take off their shirts and ride horses etc.
They do a very good job of selling sex to women, the best in the world, I'd say!

I will definitely check out the documentary, thanks for sharing!

Posted by Nina on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 7:22 AM
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Raquel Z. Rivera

Hi Nina. Thanks for your always sharp commentary. I'd love to see a Dreamworlds 3 (Part 2) directed by you!

I do wonder what other women have to say about being turned off, turned on, both, ambivalent or indifferent to the hypersexual images of women that swirl all around us.

On the personal tip, I'm both. To me, a beautiful body is a beautiful body, regardless of its gender... It's usually the messed up gender power dynamics in the images that ruin it for me.

Posted by Raquel Z. Rivera on Wednesday, April 02, 2008 at 2:01 PM
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Elis Fierro said...

Dear Raquel Z. Rivera,
My name is Elis Fierro. I am a Fresno High School Academic Decathlon Student. My Teacher/Coach (being the liberalist that he is) has decided to let us decide what is most important to us as of now, and write a ten-page essay about it. I being the only reggaeton fans in the class, decided to write a paper on just that. We were given two months to finish the paper and so far a month has passed by. My research has yet to be completed and the time is closing in. I know the basics (panama, reggae, new york, hip-hop) but they have all been found off unreliable sources. Through my research on the internet your name has popped up multiple times. And since you are in the process of writing "Reading Reggaeton", I was hoping to know what sources you are perhaps using. That, or either you can give me hints/tips on how to build my paper.
Elis I. Fierro 11g.Ed.

Elis Fierro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
raquelzrivera said...

Hi Elis.

My 2006 syllabus for "From Hip-Hop to Reggaeton" will point to some
published resources:

Negrón-Muntaner, Frances and Raquel Z. Rivera. 2007. Reggaeton Nation.
NACLA Report on the Americas 40, no. 6 (November/December): 35-39.

Wayne Marshall. 2006. we use so many snares. In Da Capo Best Music
Writing 2006: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Pop,
Country, & More, eds. Daphne Carr and Mary Gaitskill, eds., 260-271.
New York: Da Capo Press, 2006.

Jan Fairley's article in the journal Popular Music (on
dance and reggaeton in Cuba) will be re-printed in our anthology. But
you can access the original version online.
Jan Fairley, “Dancing back to front: regeton, sexuality, gender and transnationalism in Cuba,” Middle Eight, Dance Issue, Popular Music 25, no. 3 (2006): 471-488.

Jillian Baez in Centro Journal on Ivy Queen
Báez, Jillian M. 2006. En Mi Imperio: Competing Discourses of Agency
in Ivy Queen's Reggaetón. Centro 18, no. 2, (Fall): 63-81.

A chapter on rap/reggaeton masculinities in Las prácticas de la carne
(2004, Editorial Vértigo, Puerto Rico) by Felix Jimenez

forthcoming this Spring:
"Dem Bow, Dembow, Dembo: Translation and Transnation in Reggaeton,"
Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture: Jahrbuch des
Deutschen Volksliedarchivs 53 (2008).

Good luck!